As coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to sweep through the world, daily reports show that more men are dying from the killer virus than women.
A research published by China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that the death rate among men is 2.8% compared with 1.7% for women and the research suggests the trend will continue despite men and women being infected at similar rates.
According to Sabra Klein, a scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the pattern—men faring worse than women—is consistent with other viral respiratory infections. “Women fight them off better,” she said.
Officials noticed this gender difference during the SARS and MERS outbreaks as well, according to Caryn Rabin. For instance, research found that in 2003 more women were infected by SARS in Hong Kong, but men died at rates 50% higher than women. And during the MERS outbreak, 32% of men died of the infection compared with 25.8% of women, Caryn Rabin reports.
Why is the virus killing more men than women?
Below are few reasons highlighted by some experts about why more men die from the killer virus than women.
Women have a heightened immune response
Research on previous outbreaks shows that women have stronger immune responses to coronavirus.
According to Janine Clayton, director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at NIH, “There’s something about the immune system in females that is more exuberant,” but researchers have yet to figure out what that is.
Some researchers think the higher level of estrogen, which contributes to immunity, and the fact that women have two X chromosomes, which carry immune-related genes, could factor into women’s heightened immune response.
For instance, in one experiment, researchers exposed mice to SARS and found male mice were more susceptible to the infection and were slower to clear the virus. They also died at higher rates and experienced more lung damage, according to Stanley Perlman, senior author of the study and a professor of microbiology at the University of Iowa.
However, when the researchers blocked estrogen in the female mice and removed their ovaries, they were more likely to die from the virus. Blocking testosterone in the male mice on the other hand had no effect on the death rate.
Men and women have different health behaviors, conditions
Patients’ existing health conditions and health behaviors can make them more susceptible to the virus, and increase their risk of death, Caryn Rabin reports.
When it comes to health behaviors, Caryn Rabin writes, China has the largest population of smokers in the world at 316 million people, but while more than 50% of Chinese men smoke, only about 2% of Chinese women partake in the behavior.
Chinese men also have higher rates of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than women, all of which can increase the risk of complications and death from a coronavirus infection, Caryn Rabin reports.
According to a few unpublished Chinese studies, patients with delayed coronavirus diagnosis or who had pneumonia at the time of their diagnosis have an increased risk of death. And one study suggests men may be waiting to seek care, as they were more likely than women to present at hospitals with the disease at a more advanced stage.
Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunology at Yale University, added that men may have a “false sense of security” about coronavirus and similar diseases. When the outbreak first started, for instance, officials recommended that people wash their hands thoroughly and often to prevent infection, but multiple studies have found that men are less likely to wash their hands and use soap than women, according to Klein.
“We make these broad sweeping assumptions that men and women are the same behaviorally, in terms of comorbidities, biology and our immune system, and we just are not,” he said.